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Written by Jeanne Martinet on . Posted in Uncategorized.


Whether or not to talk weather

By Jeanne Martinet

Last week I was waiting for the elevator, preparing to go outside and brave the scorching heat dome (as many weathermen dubbed it), when I realized I was not only steeling myself for the oppressive blast of heat but also, in a much more minor way, for the inevitable chitchat with my neighbors about the temperature.

Hot enough for you? someone was sure to remark, or, I don”t remember it ever being this hot before! As our physical environment is something we have in common with the people around us, presumably these comments are the result of a natural impulse to bond with others. But does it help us or hurt us to continuously talk about hot it is?

Outside in the nightmarish 104-degree swelter, people were dragging themselves around, looking dazed. Eye contact between strangers was almost nonexistent. People moved slowly, unsmilingly, like zombies. Things seemed blurry, as if everyone was underwater. At mid-day on the Upper West Side there were relatively few people out’s it had the feeling of ghost town, as though half the population had been wiped off the planet. Earlier in the day I had heard one newsman call the heat wave Heatmageddon, which at the time I thought was pretty lame considering how many geddons we have had thrown at us lately. But I had to admit it did seem a little like the end of the world. Broadway resembled a war zone, with stragglers totally focused on survival. Once you were outside your building there was definitely no room for pleasantries; no one had any energy for unnecessary interaction.

Since Victorian times, discussing the weather has always been considered a socially beneficial pleasantry, although these days the subject can quickly become political over the issue of climate change. But when the weather is causing so much discomfort, it is no longer really a pleasantry. It’s more of the misery loves company category.

Here’s the thing: Do we really feel better when we commiserate? When we are experiencing physical pain, like a backache, many experts say it is better to try to get our minds off of it rather than dwell on it. So many situations in urban life are like that; we can easily see a crowded subway car as pure torture or, if we try hard, we can find something about the experience that is interesting’s an unusual-looking person, an overheard conversation’s or, more likely, just think about something else until we get home.

Just consider it: If every person in the city had a backache, would it really help us all to discuss it? It would if someone had a solution or interesting information regarding backaches. So the next time you are moved to discuss the current heat wave, why not mention that, according to the New York Times, the temperature record for New York City was set in 1936, when it reached 106 degrees. Or that while studies show that aggressive or criminal behavior increases with the heat index, they also show that when it gets really hot’s 100 degrees or so, especially when it is humid’s crime actually goes down. Or offer the latest information about when the temperature is supposed to go back down to more human levels. Simply complaining about the heat only makes it feel hotter.

It’s another thing altogether to talk about the heat after you’ve made it through, when you are safely back in the relative cool of your apartment. When you are back in the bunker’s that”s the time to bond. Call up your friends who have been out there. Compare war stories. It will make your AC feel that much better.

When I returned home later that day I ran into a worker in the elevator. He beamed at me. Having fun in paradise? he said, with a positively beatific smile.

Ha, ha. It”s a little too warm for paradise, I replied, assuming he was being sarcastic.

Not at all, he said, with an even wider smile. It”s perfect’s everything is perfect the way it is. You just decide it. Wow. It seemed to me that he really meant it.

I myself could only hope I might some day attain that kind of spiritual perspective. On the other hand, I couldn’t help wondering: Was this guy truly enlightened or had he just been out in the heat too long?

Jeanne Martinet, aka Miss Mingle, is the author of seven books on social interaction. Her latest book is a novel, Etiquette for the End of the World. You can contact her at JeanneMartinet.com.

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